That Time I Got to Fly an Airplane in College

Long before I began this blog, or had a travel bucket list, or was even obsessed with travel itself, I was able to experience something that most people can only imagine themselves doing. One crazy Saturday in my second year of college, I got to fly an airplane.

Okay, in full disclosure, I can't actually say I was entirely responsible for flying the aircraft. I flew the plane for, at most, ten minutes before we hit a bump of turbulence and I freaked out and insisted the pilot take the wheel again. (Which was probably for the best, let's be honest.) But I still GOT TO FLY AN AIRPLANE and that was a pretty neat experience.

Let's do the trippy 'back in time' ripple effect so I can tell you my story...

It all began in my second year of college when my roommate was dating a pilot-in-training, Greg. He was a super nice guy and told us about his flying practice runs all of the time. It sounded so liberating being able to rev up an airplane and just sail it away into the sky: I loved hearing his stories.

Through Greg I met - let's call him Jonathan because it ended badly and I don't want his actual name on my blog - I met Jonathan, one of Greg's pilot acquaintances. Jonathan and I hit it off right away, and we ended up going on a couple of dates.

My pilot buddy from ages ago, Greg. He was the NICE pilot! ;)

Since Jonathan was trying to rack up his flying hours, he had to constantly be going up in one of the local airport's crafts and make destination-less flights through the air. It sounded fun to me, like going for a cruise through country roads in your car with the music blasting. But Jonathan was getting a little bored with the purposeless trips through the sky, and my enthusiasm for flying gave him an idea.

One Saturday morning, Jonathan showed up at my door looking smug and very self-satisfied. He told me he had an amazing day planned for us, and instructed me to grab what I'd need for a day out. Once I was ready, we hopped in his car and wound up at the local airport (a small airport with a single runway, nothing too crazy).

Jonathan filled out the required paperwork while I vibrated with excitement. I was really pumped to be taken for a private flight in a small aircraft, for free! The worst part was when Jonathan had to ask me for my weight so the plane could be appropriately balanced out - we weren't at that stage of our relationship yet! But I mumbled it out anyway.

My co-pilot "Jonathan" flying me through the skies!

Then before I knew it, we were seated in the airplane, strapped in and ready to go. Take-off in a small two seater airplane like that is thrilling - you feel every bump and dip. I was a little nervous, but Jonathan seemed extremely confident and capable, which helped to calm my anxiety.

We began by flying over the fields and homesteads surrounding the airport. Then we began creeping further and further away from the city, without any indication that we'd be turning around. Curious, I asked Jonathan where we were headed. With a smirk, he told me that since I had mentioned I was from a small town called Hanna (home of Nickelback, our pride and shame) that he had arranged for us to fly there for lunch. I was to call my family when we landed to see if they'd want to have lunch with us.

Flying over the fields and dugouts on the way to visit my parents.

It didn't take long to fly to my hometown - it was less than a two hour drive by car, so flying in an airplane shortened that travel time considerably. We landed in the tiny Hanna airport and I rang up my folks. They were shocked to find out I was waiting for them at the airport with a private airplane and driver, but they happily agreed to come pick us up and feed us.

Out of a very strange and unexpected day, the weirdest part was introducing my parents to a man I'd only been on a few dates with, who I wasn't really that serious about, but had just allowed to fly me through the sky to a unknown destination. My father was polite but I could tell he didn't really approve of anything except that he'd been given a surprise chance to see his daughter. My mother asked Jonathan a billion nosy questions about his life, trying to vet him secretly and failing miserably.

But it was great to see my family and spend a little time with them, eating lunch in the home where I'd grown up. We stayed for about an hour and then Jonathan informed us that we had to leave in order to reach our next destination in time, since he had to return the airplane to the airport by a certain hour.

The view from the cockpit - a pilot seat view! Too cool!

Back to the airport and up in the air we went. This time, Jonathan told me we were headed to Edmonton to have a date and dinner at West Edmonton Mall. I was thrilled. He had really outdone himself!

We landed in Edmonton and took a taxi to the mall after stowing the airplane away in a hangar. (This was 17 years ago, so I'm really trying to remember the details but this part was rushed so I don't recall exactly what we had to do to secure the airplane in Edmonton. At Hanna we literally just left it parked beside the runway, but that's a small town for you!)

We spent a couple of hours wandering the mall, stopping to have dinner at a restaurant in the mall's Bourbon Street. It was pretty incredible, especially for a young girl with not very much dating experience.

Then it was time to head back home so Jonathan could return the airplane in time. By this time, the sun was setting and we ended up flying home in the dusk. The light faded and the stars came out; they looked stunning from the airplane's vantage point.

The evening was calm and quiet, so Jonathan asked if I'd want to try my hand at flying the plane. I was nervous but up for the challenge. I remember the exhilaration and terror as I gripped the handles of the wheel, feeling the plane vibrate and shimmy beneath my hands. The wheel would tip to the left or right slightly, but I kept my hands clenched and my arms rigid, willing the plane to stay on track. (Jonathan did make fun of me for being so tense, as I don't think it really requires that much effort to keep an airplane flying straight.)

How many girls can say they got to fly a plane on their date? For that, I'm grateful! Image via.

At some point during my flying stint, I did begin to relax a little, so when the plane hit a small bump of turbulence, the wheel jerked in my hands. Terrified I'd send the aircraft into a nose dive, I shrieked and insisted that Jonathan take back control. He was laughing at me, so I knew we'd never even remotely been in danger, but I was more than happy to let the almost-professional return to flying the plane.

We landed safely back at our local airport, just in time to return the aircraft. It was a really amazing day, probably the best date a college girl could ever hope to have. (Unfortunately, Jonathan turned out to be a total sleaze and had a girlfriend back home in Ontario the whole time. He'd been telling her about his adventures on the town with a friend named Marty - not Marti - conveniently spun to make it sound like I was a dude. I can't even begin to tell you how satisfying it was to slam the door right in his face when I found that little tidbit out.)

Despite Jonathan being a lame excuse for a human being, he sure did enable me to have a magical day in a private aircraft, flying home to dine with my family, and he let me check off 'fly an airplane' from my bucket list. I guess everyone comes into your life for a reason, and I choose to remember the good over the bad!

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